The Barnacle, as far as I can gather, had a rough beginning. The opening date kept getting pushed back and when I emailed (once) and rang (twice) to find out what was going on, nobody came back to me.
Then I discovered they were having what is know in the trade as a "soft" opening, when word-of-mouth invitations are issued to friends and family, often at reduced prices, while the operation beds in.
The soft opening is too little-used here: restaurants open with great fanfare and then complain if I write disobligingly about an early visit, on the grounds that "it was only our first week".
Anyway, I stayed clear during Barnacle's "soft" period, but, to my discomfort, I found that, because of the delays, our booking, which was meant to be for the beginning of week 2, was actually for the first night. Worse, the Professor and I were the first customers. And worse still, we ordered the duck and were delivered the steak.
Our waiter, Seamus, the most charming, down-to-earth fellow you could hope to meet, realised his error before he'd even finished making it. "Your fish," he said, plonking my plate in front of me, "and the steak except you didn't order the steak you ordered the duck, and I can't believe this is the first meal and I've got it wrong."
He didn't quite go as far as headbutting the table-end, but he looked close to tears and our repeated reassurances that it was no problem seemed to make things worse. It was as if he wanted us to hit the roof, to confirm his view that this was a catastrophe of a very high order. I felt like hugging him and telling him not to worry.
The Barnacle is tucked in at the seaward end of a building dubbed the Orakei Bay Village, a rather grand name for what is, in essence, a very large warehouse on the peninsula between Hobson Bay and the Orakei Basin next to the Orakei train station.
An apartment development, in the works, will doubtless make it more worthy of the name, but for now it's an assortment of mainly food-focused businesses. Prominent among those is the Barrel Room, a branch of the Brothers Beer franchise, where they've done nicely grungy job of fitting out what was once a gin distillery and, more recently, I gather, a place where they locked up vehicles that had excited the interest of the police. The Barnacle is a long, narrow room beside the bar and focuses more on cosiness than the view back to the city.
It's worth mentioning that this is not the kind of place for an intimate dinner a deux. The table and booth seating is designed for groups of four or more - in our booth our feet didn't even touch the ground - and it's not hard to imagine that much of The Barnacle's custom will be from people next door deciding they want more than the gourmet burgers at the Barrel Room.
As if things weren't already bad enough for Seamus, the gas supply to the kitchen had been interrupted for much of the day, so we were on a restricted menu (with no desserts). I mentally pictured the whole crew gathered around whoever rang me in the afternoon to confirm my booking, all willing me to say, "Well, actually . . . ", and all ready to burst into a cheer if I cancelled.
But even on the small marine-focused list we found much to enjoy. Bluffies, fat and glistening, came straight up (although philistines are catered for with versions including parmesan and brioche crumbs, and butters flavoured with chorizo or kimchi). Cod roe mixed with mascarpone was so moreish, we almost came to blows over it and pork neck, smoked in-house, was nicely done.
That duck that had been disguised very skilfully as skirt steak, sliced thin and juicy and paired with puree of onion made with dark beer; skin-on john dory, was cooked to perfection.
The bright thing about a rough start, of course, is that things can only get better. And at The Barnacle, which is relaxed and unpretentious, I have no doubt they will. If it's this good on a bad night, I can't wait to go back when things are humming: I don't drink beer, but I gotta check out that duck.
Entrees $15-$20; mains $28-$32; sides $13-$15
Verdict: Such grace under fire bodes very well.